Another Multiple-Fatality Tragedy: Four Officers Gunned Down in Lakewood, WA

In a year in which law enforcement fatalities are down overall, 2009 has been punctuated by intense bursts of violence against our nation’s peace officers. The latest, particularly heinous incident occurred just after 8 am on Sunday in Washington state, when a gunman walked into a Pierce County coffee shop and open fired on four officers of the Lakewood Police Department who were going over plans for their upcoming shift. All four officers were killed in what area law enforcement officials are calling an execution. No other customers or employees in the coffee house at the time were injured.

On Sunday night, Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar identified the four slain officers as Sergeant Mark Renninger, age 39, and Officers Tina Griswold, 40, Ronald Owens, 37, and Greg Richards, 42. All four were veteran law enforcement officers, with between 8 and 14 years of experience each, and all four had been members of the Lakewood Police Department since it was founded five years ago in the community outside Tacoma. The officers were the first members of the relatively new police agency to be killed in the performance of duty. And Officer Griswold has the unfortunate distinction of being the first female officer in the United States to be killed this year.

Chief Farrar stated, “This is a very difficult time for our families and our officers. The families will have many challenges ahead of them and we ask that their privacy be respected. Please keep our families and Lakewood Police in your prayers.”

As of Sunday night, the Pierce County (WA) Sheriff’s Department was looking for a “person of interest” in the case. He is identified as Maurice Clemmons, 37, a career criminal who was recently released from jail and has extensive criminal history in both Washington state and Arkansas.

Sunday’s violent incident was the fourth multiple-fatality shooting of law enforcement officers this year. On March 21, four members of the Oakland (CA) Police Department were fatally shot following a traffic stop and subsequent search. Just two weeks later, on April 4, three Pittsburgh (PA) Police officers were gunned down by a heavily armed extremist wearing a bullet-resistant vest and lying in wait for the officers, who had been called by the gunman’s mother for a domstic complaint. And three weeks after that, two Okaloosa County (FL) Sheriff’s deputies were murdered while trying to arrest a man wanted in an earlier domestic incident.

The 13 officers shot and killed in these four incidents represent nearly 30 percent of the 44 officers who have been shot and killed so far this year, according to preliminary statistics from the NLEOMF. The preliminary data show that total law enforcement fatalities are down more than 7 percent this year, driven by a dramatic, 23 percent drop in traffic-related fatalities. However, firearms-related deaths are up 19 percent so far this year, and the 11-month total of 44 is already five more than occurred in all of 2008.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund extends our deepest sympathies to the families of the four officers killed today in Lakewood, WA, to Chief Farrar and all the members of the Lakewood Police Department, and to the citizens of Lakewood, who are coping with the loss of four of their dedicated protectors.

Follow continuing news coverage of the tragedy in Lakewood on the websites of the Tacoma News Tribune, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Correction: In addition to the four multiple-fatality shooting incidents reported above, there was a fifth incident this past July 26, in which two Seminole County (OK) Sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. Therefore, 15 officers have been killed in multiple-fatality shootings this year, representing more than one-third of the firearms-related deaths this year in the U.S.